It is worth periodically remembering—as the tsunami of news of China’s momentous economic and political developments rushes past—that China has not always been “Chinese” in the quite the way it is, or can be presented to be, today.
Arabia Felix: Happy Arabia. Who wouldn’t want to go there and find out why it was such a happy place? In fact, in 1761 not that many Europeans were going there, which left an opening for the culturally and scientifically minded king of Denmark, Frederik V, to make a name for himself and his country by supporting a Danish expedition to that fortunate land. New scientific discoveries could be there for the making and new accurate maps drawn, as well as a chance to prove some of the stories told about Moses and the Israelites; could they have left inscriptions as they fled from Egyptian persecution, writings which might be transcribed by a competent philologist?
Baghdad is not a city readily associated with Christianity. Nevertheless, a small (and shrinking) community lives there. This brief but resonant novel describes the discrimination and abuse they suffer for their faith as well as offering an important insight into how intolerance (of any religion or lifestyle, not just Christianity) can escalate into violence and even war.
Beautifully poised and profound, Louder than Hearts, a collection by Lebanese-born poet Zeina Hashem Beck, articulates the reverberations of home, exile and family history in the 21st century from the perspective of an Arabic woman, feeling her otherness and connection with communities locally and abroad, and her empathy towards the homelessness suffered by the refugees.
In 2016, Deepak Unnikrishnan won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, with his then-unpublished manuscript, Temporary People. The prize awards US$10,000 and publication to a first-time, first-generation American author.
Now usually found in Chicago, Deepak Unnikrishnan is a first-generation American author from… where? He grew up in Abu Dhabi, but his parents are pravasis, the Malayalam word for migrants and temporary workers.
A few weeks ago in front of Lincoln Center in New York, while Women in The World Summit was about to start, a woman who seemed to like she could move mountains called Tina Brown was telling me, “I very much liked your description… What was it? ‘Having a sword fight with the ghosts’.”
I feel the idea of displacement is central to Louder than Hearts—displacement from the land, from home, from memory, and from one’s mother language. The book is dedicated “To our broken languages & our broken cities,” but I wanted to find song and celebration too, inside the brokenness.